Tonight, on an ABC story about Mark Felt’s admission that he was Woodward and Bernstein’s “Deep Throat,” the reporter mentioned Watergate occurred before half the people alive today in the U.S. were born. Wow.
With that in mind, let me lay out a little history, because I think what Watergate was is often lost to time. Watergate was not about what White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler called, “a third-rate burglary.”
When Democratic National Chairman Larry O’Brien’s (yes – the guy who later became NBA commissioner) office at the Watergate was broken into, the election was already in the bag for Richard Nixon. So, in reality, it was a meaningless burglary.
What made Watergate poisonous to Richard Nixon was his attempt to cover it up. The more he lied… the more he stonewalled… the deeper the hole he was digging became. That the country was deeply divided over Vietnam certainly didn’t help either.
Mark Felt enters the picture because he was worried the FBI’s investigation was being hatcheted by the White House. He ‘ratted’ to protect his own turf.
Nixon was not a warm and fuzzy guy, but he had won by a landslide. He needed to be perceived as pretty evil to be run out of town on a rail – and make no mistake, he was run out of office.
The biggest blow to Nixon was the release of the audio tapes, recorded in the Oval Office. Nixon and his aides could be heard plotting and scheming the cover up. Moreover, they were speaking in a manner never expected from occupants of the Oval Office. They were crude, vulgar and vindictive.
How, even after the courts had ruled against him, he could let these be released is beyond me.
I was in my early twenties at the time and not politically adept, but I was certainly hurt by what I heard and how the President of the United States had told bold faced lies to America. In the pre-24 hour news cycle era, the story started slowly and picked up steam until it was all encompassing.
The Watergate burglary itself was bad… but not this bad. There was no need for it to bring down the president. This became a textbook case in how not to handle a crisis.
You have to hope there were lessons learned in Watergate. You just have to.